Christmas 2019 was our first Christmas in our new town and, after spending the children’s entire lifetimes within a 30-minute walk of my mum and their auntie, we are now an hour’s drive away or, as we don’t drive, two hours by train. As Christmas approached, I found this playing on my mind more and more. Would they remember, I wondered, looking at photos of Christmases gone by. Would they remember Christmas Days at Grandma’s house, with an abundance of adults eager to play with them and their toys, and the walk back to our own home through the evening, navigating by homes all lit up with fairy lights? And would they feel wistful for that, and sad?
We decided to structure Christmas quite carefully, with a small budget for toys and gifts and the majority of our budget focused on Going To Nice Places to Do Nice Things. Our festivities started the weekend before Christmas; we were due to visit Santa (the real one, obviously) on Sunday 22nd December at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Their ‘Santa Specials’ events are apparently extremely popular, but fortunately for us I was unusually organised last year and managed to secure tickets back in September. We decided to book the Rudolph’s Romney Return, with a steam train ride from Hythe to Romney followed by sausage rolls, mince pies and snacks in the cafeteria, a visit to Santa’s Grotto and a chance to explore their model exhibitions before catching the train back to Hythe again. They have other options that involve breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea with Santa but as we were unsure what their vegan provisions were like, we decided to stick with the least food-intensive option. As it turned out, there was plenty there for children and adults with dietary requirements and we were very happy with our vegan offerings!
It was our first time riding the steam train and the children were delighted by it – it’s much smaller than it looks in photos and, although we fit in beautifully, it felt like riding a charming toy! We cuddled in and watched the countryside disappear as the train chugged from Hythe to New Romney.
I always think that with events such as these, it is people that make it special – and this proved to be true again on this occasion. The staff at both stations were warm and friendly, highly efficient – and dressed as elves. My children were convinced that they were the real deal and greeted several of them with hugs! There were lots of families there and it could have felt quite busy, but we were carefully managed to ensure that there was minimal wait time and the children always had something to occupy their time.
Toward the end of the event, shortly after the children had met Santa, an elf winked at us and remarked “I think the weather is about to turn.” Kirsty and I looked up at the blue skies in confusion and dismay, which turned to delight as false snow started to burst from an installation and the children all flocked beneath it.
At £22/person for both adults and children over a year old it’s an extravagant treat and more than we would typically spend on a day out. That said, it was the perfect way to begin building the excitement for Christmas and we are hoping to make it a family tradition – one of the elves told us that some families have been coming every year for thirty years or more, which I can easily believe as it is such a lovely thing to do.
I think that this coming Christmas we might even extend the day with a longer train ride from Hythe to Dungeness and lunch with Santa. But whatever format our RH&DR ‘Santa Special’ takes, I know that it will be another magical experience for the children and if you are able to book a similar experience I really couldn’t recommend it more highly.